As traditional flu season begins, pharmacists across the country are urging Canadians to get their annual flu shot. Local pharmacist, Himanshu Lalaji, says everyone able to should plan to be immunized, especially those considered high-risk.
“The flu is a type of influenza that we see every year,” Lalaji told the News. It spreads in the air as well as through contact with surfaces. Many symptoms of the flu mimic those of other illnesses, especially COVID. While the common flu is not as deadly as COVID, it still poses a risk to people’s health.
The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations found that on average 5-10% of adults are infected by influenza each year, but that number jumps to 20-30% for children between the ages of five and nine. Lalaji also mentions that pregnant individuals, the elderly and those with other health conditions are at higher risk of contracting the flu.
“It depends on the category of health you belong to, but there are certain patients who have other conditions; they are high-risk, as well as kids,” Lalaji said. Most people experience moderate symptoms, but there are rare cases which have long-lasting, sometimes fatal outcomes.
“We don’t know how sick you are going to be, until the flu hits you. We don’t want to wait until that moment,” said Lalaji. “The best way (for prevention) is to get the influenza immunization as early as possible.”
Each year the flu shot is designed based upon what strain scientists predict will be most prevalent in North America. This year it is the Australian strain. The flu shot contains a small amount of this strain, which will trigger a body’s immune system to fight it off. This, in turn, strengthens the immune system.
“If you’re vaccinated it doesn’t mean you won’t get the influenza infection, but it protects against the severity of the illness. It prevents hospitalization. It prevents the health-care burden,” Lalaji said, citing the province’s current COVID crisis.
Individuals who received one or more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine should still get their flu shot this fall, as the COVID vaccine does not prevent people from contracting influenza.
As of Oct. 1, high-risk individuals are eligible to receive their flu shot. This includes individuals over the age of 65, pregnant women, Indigenous people, individuals with chronic medical conditions, as well as anyone using medication that suppresses their immunity.
“The good part,” Lalaji says, “is that the National Advisory Committee on Immunization just said that one can get the COVID shot as well as the influenza vaccine all together.”
Alberta’s vaccine booking system is not yet up and running for the influenza vaccine, but Lalaji encourages eligible Hatters to visit one of the many pharmacies in the city and get their shot. Some pharmacies, like the one located at Real Canadian Superstore, are currently accepting walk-ins.
The flu shot will open to all individuals beginning Oct. 18.
KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News